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#24 - JRL 2006-143 - JRL Home
Russia Profile
June 22, 2006
Everybody Smile and Wave
Despite the Disagreements, the G8 Summit Will Be a Success

Comment by Nikolai Zlobin

Dr. Nikolai Zlobin is the Director of the Russian and Asian Programs at the World Security Institute in Washington, and a member of Russia Profile's International Advisory Board. He contributed this comment to Russia Profile.

In some ways, holding the chairmanship of the G8 was a big, and not altogether pleasant surprise for the Russian establishment. Those in Russias positions of power understood neither the unique opportunities nor the huge responsibilities that went along with the leadership of the G8.

Partially because they had such a limited understanding of what the G8 presidency meant, Moscows international influence has decreased significantly over the past six months, and its reputation as a reliable supplier of energy resources has suffered a great loss. In the West, political leaders and the general public view Russia as an authoritarian, corrupt and ineffective state.

Relations between the United States and Russia have dropped to their lowest level for the entire post-Soviet period. It is now clear that they will continue to worsen in the foreseeable future. The process of Russias entry to the WTO has ground to a halt, and Russias relations with most of its neighbors have seriously deteriorated. Several CIS states have started to consider a possible withdrawal from that organization, preparing to make definite steps toward joining NATO and crossing the threshold of the European Union.

From the official point of view, the G8 meeting in St. Petersburg will undoubtedly go well. But the official success of the meeting and its actual achievements are two different things.

There are a number of reasons why the meeting will serve to deepen the disagreements between the worlds leading nations. First of all, no principal accord will be reached on the issue of what should be expected with regard to a system of international energy security, how to achieve it, and who is interested in its establishment.

The consumer nations are perplexed and anxious, not only about the high prices for energy, but also because, at any moment, and for any reason, the tap might be turned off. Therefore, they are trying harder than ever to diversify the market. In doing so, they risk losing current sources of energy or even higher prices.

The supplier nations would also like a diversified market of consumers, although they fear losing reliable purchasers able to pay high prices and make purchase contracts 10 years in advance. As a result, the world market has become extremely unstable, and the slightest variation in the production of energy suppliers, political unrest, or the paranoid expectation of risks or crises could have a major effect on the situation.

Second, the way that the United States and Western Europe view Russia has changed, both in terms of the overall direction of global development and of Russias role in this process. This change in perception has made a strategic partnership between Russia and these countries impossible. It is becoming ever more difficult for Washington to cooperate with Russia, even in areas where their interests coincide, because the deepening rift prevents the two countries from seeing the future in the same way. There is no doubt that Russia is a sovereign nation and has a right to choose its own path. But to suggest that any change in its policies will be taken lightly in the West, just because they all need oil, gas and security, is simply foolish.

Moscow hopes the United States and Western Europe need Russia enough to close their eyes unconditionally to its internal evolution. In all fairness, the Bush administration did exhibit these signs for a few years, as did the governments of most European countries. This was a mistake that the White House is now trying to correct. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney made a clumsy attempt to begin doing this in Vilnius.

The West is convinced that Russias government is carrying out a foreign policy that is less and less constructive, while strengthening authoritarianism inside the country. As a result, Washington has now changed course from a policy of cautious cooperation to one of cautious restraint, in reaction to a similar approach that Moscow has openly followed in relation to the United States for over three years.

We can only assume that the negative tendencies will grow stronger after the meeting in St. Petersburg comes to an end, and with it the political correctness that will accompany the proceedings. So, the inevitable question arises: What is the whole point of this meeting?

First of all, any dialogue, however unproductive, is much more useful than confrontation. Todays world is seriously lacking in mutual trust, and any opportunity to reverse this trend must be taken seriously. Second, there will surely be agreement on some issues. At the very least, everyones points of view will be made clear, and that will, in turn, generate some hope for continued discussion after the G8 meeting. Third, this prediction, like any other, could turn out to be false.

The G8 leaders are in a position to disprove any pessimistic forecast, this one included, and we must hope that they will. After all, it is up to world leaders to generate a positive outcome in the most unpleasant situation. And the meeting in St Petersburg will give them that chance.

Dr. Nikolai Zlobin is the Director of the Russian and Asian Programs at the World Security Institute in Washington, and a member of Russia Profile's International Advisory Board. He contributed this comment to Russia Profile.